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Posts Tagged ‘Black Book of Carmarthen’

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BLACK BOOK

it seems time now
to turn back to those
terse ancient words of winter

(now the leaves flounder across lawns,
the grey lidless sky at the window,
and the hills melted in rain)

to tease out the meat
and gristle of them,
to open the heart,
see the red blood pump through
and where and how
that mysterious circulation,
vowel and consonant,
revolving as keys.

(and the cloud upon Bryn
like a dove on the brow of God.
and the trees in their lordly might
whispering from leaf to root to leaf)

each tooth and tongue
taking edge.
each passage,
a view coagulate.

(and the dusty crows thrown eastwards
on the wind of storm and shortening days)

a small breeze it is
that burns the flesh cold.
a bleak hill
a bleak hill.
harsh is the path,
and we, shelterless.

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LLYM AWEL, verse 8: Improvisations.

Ottid eiry, tohid istrad;
Diuryssini vy keduir y cad;
Mi nid aw; anaw ni’m gad
.

Falling snow, the wide valley covered;
They hasten, the warriors to war;
Myself, I do not go; a wound does not allow.

‘Istrad’ is not any vague ‘valley’, but an open, level or wide part of a valley floor, ( ‘dale’ or ‘strath’ are modern translations, suggesting gentle, cultivated land), distinguishing it from a steep or narrow-walled valley (cwm, combe, dingle, dell,)
‘Tohid’ could be ‘blanketed’, or ‘covered’. ‘Blanketed’ sounds too soft and benign, ‘smothered’ too dramatic. I’ve settled for ‘covered’ , though it seems a little pedestrian.
‘Keduir’ ( kedwir) are warriors, ‘cad’ is battle, but ‘warriors’ and ‘war’ is, perhaps, a better echo of the original sounds and semantics.
Each line ends with the same rhyme: istrad/cad/gad. The last line has a nice reflection in ‘..nid aw; anaw ni’m..’
There seems to be a disconnection between first and second lines. We are left wondering :what is the context? Is the landscape description simply to provide a scene through which the warriors move? Does it reflect the two events: a blanket of snow paralysing the fertile valley floor, the descent of the war-band on hapless neighbours? Is the snowfall a cover for an unexpected, aggressive assault?
There is a clear suggestion of the quiet, open space and silence of the valley contrasted with the fast moving, tightly animated, urgent group of warriors.
The stillness and emptiness of the landscape is echoed in the last line by the helplessness of the narrator left behind as his companions depart. Though there is no suggestion whether the narrator feels guilt or relief, we can see the view of the wide, empty snow-filled valley floor as a correlate for his physical, emotional and mental state.

Falling snow is valley’s shroud.
A warrior’s heart is vast and cold.
With skilled companions, open to chance,
Brave and proud.
A blizzard roar sweeping away all.

Unfathomable is the mind of a mountain;
The language of clouds: not easy to read,
a mystery sung by rivers.

The silence in waiting long.
Unkind the distance between here
And good company.
Vast and empty is the future
We fill with hope.
Empty and shelterless
Is the valley void of laughter.

Wide, white and shrouded
Is the green glory of the young.
Each year these wounds
And the memories of wounds
Pile up to muffle song.

A keening wind will bring tears,
Even to the strong.

Halt and bold,
Blood-smeared will be the footsteps
Of those who return.
Their tracks:
The lines of those before us,
All aches smoothed over,
Disappearing,
The wide, vast future
Brought sharp to a point:
One moment whole,
One moment severed.
Cut short,
All certainty
Reduced to dream,
All echoes dying away.

The groans of ice.
Frost-cracked, the stones split,
Gape skywards toothless:
The road and door
To other worlds.

Left lame, useless,
Not knowing.
Watching slow snow fall.
Hands without strength,
An empty mind trudges distances.
Goalless, remote, the hollow eyes.
A dry and empty cup.

The minds of mountains
And their clouds
Weep and rejoice.
Glory of sunlight
Spitting shadows.

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Llym Awel, second stanza. Improvisations.

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Ton tra thon, toid tu tir;
Goruchel guaetev rac bron banev bre;
Breit allan or seuir
.

The alliteration of the first line rolls and rumbles like the waves that are described therein, then stutters and becomes harsh as the roaring sound is described, followed by a diminishing gentleness of the vanquished sloping land. The last line has a shocked gulping sadness, or an amazed sorrow. It frames and positions the narrator in an emotional as well as a natural landscape.

“Wave on wave, covering the side of the land;
Very loud the roar against the high hill;
A wonder anything remains.”

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Wave tops wave.
A coupling clamber
A mating roar,
cast seed
spray spume.
Before one, before all,
up sloping land.
Seige unopposed,
howled hunger thrown,
A wild encroachment,
a burst breach
Long and longer reach,
a tumble.
The high hill groans.
What can stand,
what can stay?
From this slide skywards,
From this steep,
utter submergence?

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